Celebrating the dreams and experiences of sexual minorities through photographs

A socio-political-artistic collaboration between Maraa and Payana, the ‘Truth Dream’ photo exhibition is opening at Bangalore International Centre on December 6

Pictures of 12 senior transgender models will be showcased at the exhibition

By Reema Gowalla

Don’t give up on your dreams, they say. There is, after all, some truth in them. Twelve members of sexual minorities from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are about to fulfill a dream — pictures of them becoming their favourite characters from Indian cinema will be showcased at a three-day exhibition in Bengaluru, starting tomorrow. Aged 50 and above, they identify as transwomen, transmen, kothi and gender non-conforming individuals, who have come together for ‘Truth Dream’ — a creative collaboration between arts-media collective Maraa and Payana, a non-profit organisation that works for the rights and dignity of the third gender.

Zeeshan styling a model

“For many, beauty is all about young age, fair skin and a slim body. This socio-political-artistic project looks beyond those standards to celebrate the dreams of the transgender commmunity member who have always faced discrimination and suffered on the fringes of society. In the photographs, you’ll see ageing bodies realising their true dreams in a bold and expressive style. Unfazed by popular perception, these individuals are making an effort to showcase their personal stories and creative side to drive home the message of body positivity, inner beauty and resilience,” says Chandini, a transgender rights activist and Founder of Payana, who has conceived and conceptualised the project.

From Jaya Prada as Shakuntala in the Kannada historical drama Kaviratna Kalidasa, Sridevi in the Hindi film Mr. India and yesteryears’ actress-dancer Jayamalini to other queens and goddesses from the film world, these community models are embodying their fantasies quite effortlessly.

Ekta Mittal

“When it comes to the transgender community, all we hear is activism or them being the victims. So much so that it becomes the only narrative we can relate to. But there are other stories too — those that involve their perspectives, desires and creativity. We need to look outside the realm of pride parades and think of more ideas to provide the stepping stone for their style of storytelling. ‘Truth Dream’ is an attempt to break the stereotype and pave a new path of artistic expression for them,” says Ekta Mittal, Co-founder of Maraa.

Photographed by ​​Jaysingh Nageswaran and Rudra Rakshit Sharan, the project features Banu, Bernie, Devi, Parveenamma, Nadia, Lakshmi, Revathy, Shanthi, Shakila, Shobha, Shobhana, Reshma and Chandini. The models are styled by Zeeshan, while Sankeerthi Aipanjiguly has taken care of costumes and jewellery. The backdrop design for the project was done by Atelier Prati and Falana Films were in charge of documenting it.

Chandini

According to Chandini — who has been working toward increasing advocacy, awareness and support for the LGBTQIA+ community for the past 20 years — it was not easy to get these 12 people onboard for the project. “Of course, we all have childhood dreams of looking like or becoming our favourite characters from the movies, even if it only brings fleeting moments of joy. The thought of wearing a saree and putting on some makeup excites us too. But years of suffering and being abandoned by family and society have made them sceptical of even the prospect of coming in front of the camera. The 50+ age criteria also made many hesitate. The final participants had to attend a workshop to help them ease those inhibitions and strengthen their confidence to be comfortable during the photo shoot. It was a team effort and we are happy with the final outcome of providing them with a platform to showcase their talent,” Chandini elaborates.

Adding to that, Ekta says, “It was a very important project to be entrusted with. Those who you will see in the photo frames are senior transgender activists who have spent the prime of their life working to uplift the community. We had to recognise the nuances and constantly bear in mind that in this endeavour we are responsible to make them feel that moment in their dream. The city of Bengaluru also played an important role in building the narrative of this project. The way they navigate the nook and cranny of this IT hub and what they run into is very different from the what we come across. It’s necessary to find a way to trace those difficulties and experiences they have had in the city over the past decades.”

Their desires and inner beauty come to life in this photo exhibition, playfully challenging the power dynamics of gender and caste discrimination. Plans are afoot to release a new book of stories and poems that will shed light on the unheard and misinterpreted tales of sexual minorities. “Following the opening exhibition of these photographs in Bengaluru, we are hoping to take the project to different parts of the country soon,” Ekta sums up.

‘Truth Dream’ opens at Bangalore International Centre on December 6 at 6 pm. Register here to attend the launch event.

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